Perfume Reviews: Oscar de la Renta and Esprit d'Oscar

I did not remember smelling the original Oscar de la Renta way back in the 80s, when it was relatively new, but it did smell sort of familiar when I managed to get hold of a used miniature bottle for a few dollars on ebay. It smelled like a tuberose-rich white floral on one of those kitchen-sink bases that you used to get in your average department-store floral – less mossy than Chloe, less civet-dirty than Ysatis, but a rich floral-woody-oriental all the same. It is actually a contemporary of Chloe’s, being released just two years later, and the two run fairly congruently along the lines of their notes lists. (I have a strong preference for Chloe as being cleaner and more ladylike, but you might attribute that preference to the fact that I wore Chloe for more than a decade.)

Oscar was composed by Jean-Louis Sieuzac, who also authored some of the most famous fragrances of the 70s and 80s: Dune, Fahrenheit, Bel Ami, Opium. Its notes list:  (Top) orange blossom, basil, coriander, galbanum, peach, gardenia, (Heart) ylang-ylang, jasmine, tuberose, rose, rosemary, cyclamen, lavender, orchid, (Base) opoponax, carnation, patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver, amber.

Oscar also has a distinctively “ashtray” note that I’ve found in only a few other fragrances: Cristalle edt and Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds. Presumably this ashtray note pops up other places (Etat Libre d’Orange’s Jasmin et Cigarette, perhaps? I haven’t smelled it), but I don’t know what causes it, and I don’t tend to find it in fragrances that list a tobacco note. In any case, Tania Sanchez mentions it in her review in P:TG as well.

The current version of… Oscar… is complicated but flat, zipping from a tobacco-tinged tuberose top note to a nondescript woody oriental that reminds me of the way my clothes used to smell the morning after a big night out – clinging remnants of perfume and stale cigarette smoke. Ysatis was a better, plusher version of this kind of thing, although I hear that Oscar was a big, impressive tuberose once. It isn’t now.”

I haven’t smelled the modern iteration of Oscar, and I can only go on the (slightly-age-damaged) bottle of vintage parfum I have on hand. The first whiff is of nail polish remover – fairly common in older perfumes, and nothing serious to worry about. It seems to be related to the breakdown of aldehydes, and is usually out of the way in ten to fifteen minutes. I don’t smell any herbs or galbanum when I put on this Oscar, or perhaps they’re buried under the heavy florals. Vintage Oscar is indeed a big, impressive white-floral composition, on that complicated base that I mentioned earlier. What comes through most in the base is woods and amber, sweet and insistent. Along with the tuberose, there is a pile of orange blossom and jasmine. There is also quite a bit of heliotrope, and the combination makes me think fleetingly of L’Heure Bleue, though it’s less seamless than L’HB, and the ashtray cast dirties the whole thing up.

Oscar seems rather bad-tempered to me, with a Bette Davis “Jezebel” don’t-tell-me-what-to-do attitude. Again, it might be that my vintage parfum is to blame here, but the odd thing about this haughty fragrance is that it seems right that it’s haughty. It’s not quite the thin, couture-clad woman smoking a cigarette in a holder and walking an ocelot on a jeweled leash sort of Erte-illustration haughtiness that you get from your big rose chypres, but it’s a sort of “I pay my pool boy more in a week than you’ll earn this year, sweetie” condescending haughtiness that doesn’t feel very much like me: a plush limo, a lady-that-lunches. It is fairly dated, in a way that probably would bring up the dreaded “old lady” appellation, and I’m guessing that your average man would feel uncomfortable wearing it.

The parfum does last well, about six hours, but without the big sillage I expected. I’ll bet the EdP is a sillage bomb, though. I bought my partially-used mini bottle on eBay for about $4, but new bottles range from $30 for a 30ml bottle of EdT at online discounters, to $85 for a 100ml bottle of EdT or $104 for a quart-ounce of parfum  in a department store. It’s easily available, and there are also miniatures and body products (lotion, etc.) associated.

See other reviews of Oscar de la Renta perfume at Basenotes and Fragrantica

From blog comments and reviews, I’d heard that Esprit d’Oscar was an updated, easy-listening version of the original white floral beast, and that it was very pleasant. I was happy to run across a sample in a swap (thanks, AnnS!) and even happier to find that Esprit is so attractive and wearable. It was composed by the team of Frank Voelkl and Ann Gottlieb, and released this year (2011).  The notes list for Esprit d’Oscar includes bergamot, lemon, citron, jasmine, orange blossom, tuberose, musk, heliotrope, tonka bean, and vetiver.

Esprit begins with some lovely citrus notes, under which I smell a lot of white florals. It does away with the ashtray note and a good bit of the ballast of Oscar, and opts to highlight orange blossom over tuberose. Both are clearly present, but it’s a clean, pretty orange blossom that is in focus here. In fact, what with the orange blossom and heliotrope, Esprit smells, for a time, even more like L’Heure Bleue than the original Oscar does. The other big change, aside from the general lightening of the formula, is the use of a creamy, face-powder smoothness that reminds me a little bit of Love, Chloe and Dior New Look 1947. I really like this sort of thing, particularly in conjunction with the white floral blend in Esprit d’Oscar, and I’m not surprised that several perfume bloggers have found Esprit congenial.

Of course, it’s a truism that if there’s orange blossom in a particular fragrance, it tends to smell of soap to me. I truly think that there is something about the interaction of orange blossom and my skin that creates the illusion of soap. Every time I wear something heavy on the OB, I’ll ask family members, individually, what they think, and invariably I’ll get the answer, “That smells like soap.” Sometimes the response is positive, as it is with Esprit d’Oscar: my husband, when asked, said, “That’s nice and clean. Very pleasant. Honestly, it smells like you just showered with one of those fancy soaps.”

Thing is, I don’t actually use fancy soaps. I always buy shower gel of some kind or other, because our water is very hard (calcium carbonate) and soap leaves impossible-to-eradicate scum in the showers. The shower gels always lack that creamy sort of smell that I think of as being classic soap.

The longer Esprit is on, the more musk I smell. It’s a clean sort of musk, but of the variety I call “skin,” as opposed to “laundry.” A quick drugstore reference, if I’m not making sense to you here: “skin” musk is Jovan Musk for Women, or, duh, Parfums de Coeur Skin Musk. These are warm, gentle perfumes that smell like clean skin, and since Jovan Musk was one of my mother’s everyday fragrances when I was a kid, skin-musk scents tend to strike me as being warm, clean, and comforting. “Laundry” musk is easily smellable in Jovan White Musk, which smells like harsh industrial soap to me, that nasty chemical stuff they use in hospital laundries. I happen to like musk, as long as it doesn’t encroach on what I call “goaty” musk. (Ever smell a goat up close? Do yourself a favor, and don’t. I like goats, but the smell is fairly beastly. Maybe I just like the idea of goats. Ahem. We’re leaving the goat pen behind. No dallying with Muscs Koublai Khan or Smell Bent Commando, now. Press onward.)

The overall effect of Esprit d’Oscar is pretty and clean and perfumey, but at the same time, it seems vastly more unisex than Oscar. It’s very easy to wear, and I doubt you’d offend anyone if you were drenched in the stuff, so it might make a great gift, and I think it’s a perfect office, or “wallpaper” scent, the kind that hangs around like a veil and smells pleasant without drawing notice to itself. The clean angle and the skin musk take it out of that dated, heavy-floral realm that Oscar is now situated in.

Esprit d’Oscar is an eau de parfum and lasts pretty well on my skin, probably due to the musk. I usually get about four to five hours, dabbed moderately. It might last even longer sprayed, but I have a dabber sample (now mostly used and enjoyed). It’s available at certain department stores from $78 for a 50ml bottle, and $98 for a 100ml one. I don’t yet see any body products or miniatures in production, but if it sells well, as it should, those will probably be produced.

See other reviews of Esprit d’Oscar here: Angela at Now Smell ThisBrian at I Smell Therefore I Am, Marina at Perfume-Smellin’ Things.  (As always, if you know of other reviews, please share!) 


15 thoughts on “Perfume Reviews: Oscar de la Renta and Esprit d'Oscar”

  1. Hello mals!
    This is Bear from NST. I really enjoy reading your blog and appreciate your Esprit d’Oscar and Oscar reviews.
    The Oscar I smelled @ TJMaxx a few years ago was a ‘shrieky’ tuberose with the kitchen sink base. It was the edt and seemed as if it could be better had they used higher-quality ingredients. I am really looking forward to smelling the Esprit based on your and other reviews.
    I especially like the nicknames you have provided your family. Very John Irving and they always make me smile when I read them!

    1. Welcome, Bear! Glad you stopped by.

      I am absolutely sure that what’s being sold as Oscar these days is a lot more synthetic than the older formula. I’ve heard terrible things about Chloe too – apparently they’re still making/selling the old stuff* but it doesn’t smell like it used to.

      *Not the new muguet-rose edp thing in the pretty bottle.

      It’s tough to come up with pseudonyms for family members, but they are at least in some ways the personifications of their nicknames…

  2. Hi Mals- Nice reviews 🙂 I happen to be wearing Esprit d’Oscar today- I find it to be very “go-to”- and have been wearing it a lot- lovely even in the heat. And I have to agree about it being similar to L’Heure Blue- they seem like cousins. And the bottle is gorgeous!

    I smelled the original Oscar when I bought my bottle- and I recognize it as something a lot of the older women in the Baptist church I grew up in wore (probably only on Sunday).

    1. I think I’d agree about Esprit being very “go-to” and an easy choice for any number of occasions and weathers. Really pretty and comfortable, too.

      Yeah, Oscar seems really dated at this stage, in a way that many other, even older, fragrances are not.

  3. Malls, I’ve been loving Ed’O. As you say, it’s an easy fragrance to wear (a go-to, for sure), and it’s SO pretty! I love L’Heure Bleue, but don’t wear it very much, because it projects a specific atmosphere; whereas I see Esprit d’Oscar as the grande dame’s optimistic, if still achingly beautiful, niece.

    Have I told you how much I love to read your reviews? Well, there it is! 😉

    1. Awww, thanks, Dee!

      Esprit d’O really is pleasant and pretty; I think the niece analogy works pretty well. L’HB is SO distinctive and SO… unadaptable, maybe… either it works on you or it doesn’t. Or it works for the situation, or it is All Wrong, no compromises – whereas the Esprit is like the LBD.

  4. I am not familiar with the original Oscar and I haven’t tried Esprit d’Oscar either, though I have had occasion to smell today’s version of Oscar and wasn’t overly impressed. As you found with your older mini it seemed not to be as dirty as Ystatis (this is good), but I agree with the others about its loudness and dated “big oriental” persona.

    Now I happen to have come by a bottle of vintage Chloe recently – offloaded by a friend – and that does strike me as civet city. Totally unwearable for me but I do admire it as quite plush and rich. If you are ever in need of stocks of the original, you know where to come! I just sent Bloody Frida a sample as she was curious to try it.

    1. Yep, Oscar is Big. If you said to a perfume house, “Supersize my Floral Oriental, please!” you might get Oscar.

      Well, if you are lucky, you might get Ubar instead. But that is beside the point.

      Vintage Chloe is civet-city for you?? That made me laugh. Funny, I never thought of that as being very civetty, even back in the day. And thanks for the offer… however, I picked up a tiny ebay parfum a couple of years ago to do a review for my tuberose series, and found that a) it still smells great to me and b) I can no longer wear it, since it’s so closely associated with my teenage years, and all the emotional sturm und drang of those times. I continue to be stunned that my mother let teenage me out of the house wearing Chloe, given that she utterly banned the Sand & Sable… I mean, I used to wear Chloe to *church.*

      (Aha! and now it makes sense to you that I wear Amaranthine to church!)

    1. Hi there, JE!

      To be honest, I don’t know that you need to go rechecking Oscar, unless you are determined to be nostalgic. It is not what I think of as being your type of fragrance. (Of course, I might be surprised.)

      But Esprit d’O is very pretty, and “comforting” is a good description. If I didn’t already love my Mariella Burani, Esprit would fill the same sort of slot – and that is high praise.

  5. LOL re you and your Amaranthine church-wearing habit – I do remember that!

    So I found I had a sample of Esprit d’Oscar in my holding basket, and it does smell like LHeure Bleue, or how I think it smelt from way back when I tried it. Unfortunately I don’t care for L’Heure Bleue – too sneezy/powdery. D’you know, I actually thought there was oakmoss in it, as it smells prickly and a bit dated to my nose like that Roja Dove chypre scent – Unspoken. There is a flat quality to the musk underneath the prickliness which must be the heliotrope and which isn’t doing it for me. But there again on the plus side it is also reminding me of Ines de La Fressange (which I do like!) and I also detect the cold cream/face powder vibe you mention in there. So I am all over the map with this one, but its flat quality probably means it’s a no-no on balance!

  6. Oh, oh, update!! The Esprit has settled into its drydown now, and the prickly (phantom) mossiness has gone, leaving just the pretty floral / cold cream accord, which is simply lovely. Well worth waiting for – this sample is a keeper after all. : – )

    1. Oops, just saw this, Espy — welcome. If you’re able to order from Amazon or Fragrancenet, you might find it there. I see listings there right now (March 21) for under $20. Good luck!

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